Sporting Chance

Anatomy Of A Tournament

It’s an honorary position of course, so neither the taxman nor my wife is interested. There’s just an award of a load of extra work. Really, I might have had more luck with my original idea for staging a version of ‘Joan of Arc’ on ice (the twist being that she drowns in the final scene). Organising a tournament is a never-ending and largely thankless task; if all goes well, no one notices, and if it doesn’t, it’s the organisers’ heads on the block.

Nevertheless, we already have paid-up entries from teams as far afield as Sydney, Brisbane, Auckland and Cape Town. For the International Rugby Sevens. In Bangkok, Thailand. In November. The venue has been secured and sponsors are starting to sign up. Social media is engaged and Facebook ‘likes’ have reached four figures. All we need now is publicity, luck and lots more organisation.

Overall charge of this collective madness lies with David Adamson, of New Zealand Rugby Resources. As tournament director, he has taken control of the event, which celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year, and is moving it upmarket. Our ‘team’ is mainly Kiwi, but everyone has a similar enthusiasm for the sport and no one – except me – wants the publicity.

The details vary somewhat between different sports and levels of professionalism, but the general principles are similar. David recommends starting preparation at least nine months ahead of the proposed date, at which point certain obvious basics have to be in place – such as venue and planned scope (number of teams, grades, age levels etc) and key stakeholders (is the event for players or spectators?). He advocates compiling an operating manual, a dauntingly thick compendium of everything about the event such as an organisational chart – who does what and when – timeline, seating and other plans, and views of the venue for safety and emergency procedures.

Much of this is required by law nowadays. You can no longer just rent a field for the day and start playing. Health and safety, insurance and public liability, limitations on sponsorships and alcohol licences all need to be addressed well ahead of time if the organisers are not to fall foul of local council or police, not to mention irate spectators or players’ parents.

David’s latest tournament (his record includes the Manawatu Rugby Union’s Club 7s and the Hurricanes Regional 7s) is not in Bangkok in order to get round such restrictions. He – and the rest of the organisers – is treating the twentieth Bangkok Sevens just as they would a similar event in Perth or Pukekohe, not least because this new team has ambitions to make the event part of the official regional international rugby calendar. So everything must be done by the book whether or not the Thai authorities might be looking.

So he has his event covered for public liability. Elemental, no? Well, not quite. Less than two years ago, at the same venue (but in a different event), I became the first player to need hospital treatment before playing, when my foot found a hole that appeared in some rotten concrete around the ageing pavilion and I broke an ankle. Subsequently, it became clear the venue owner had “signed away” all liability to the tournament organiser, who in turn had “economised” by not bothering with insurance. I could sue two non-Thai officials – both ready to leave the country – or the venue owner, a Thai company; but legal advice counselled against it. It’s cheaper to pay the hospital bills. However, the venue has been completely revamped in the meantime, providing us with superb new facilities and pitches (usually a big problem in Asia, where grass quality tends to be poor).

With finance, David strongly advises total transparency – engage the help of an accountant (even they must volunteer sometime, surely?) and ensure at least two people sign off on everything, to avoid comebacks or future recrimination. The approval of regional rugby authorities is more important than ruffling a few local feathers, and the teams travelling from as far away as Europe or Southern Africa would expect nothing less.

The Bangkok Sevens insists that all players must have insurance cover, while also providing qualified medical service at the venue. This is an important point as all sports are finding it harder than ever to find insurers. Leading companies such as NZI and Southern Cross have apparently ceased providing any cover for “contact sports”, while most other insurers regard any tournament where there is prize money (even a night out for two at the Bull & Bush) as “professional” and decline cover accordingly. David once tried to get coverage for a semi-pro event in Fiji but the insurer demanded a premium of some $700 per player; it was more economical to withdraw the prize and play for the trophy and the pride.

And the sociability. Whether it’s rugby, footy, soccer or netball, an important purpose of a sports tournament is to meet and have a laugh, which for most sporting people means a few beers. Consider a statistic supplied by Carlsberg: at the 2014 Hong Kong World Sevens, consumption of beer in the stadium was a staggering 320,000 pints.

But be careful, says David: for example, does your event include a youth section? Then in Australasia, you must not have a sponsor that is alcohol-related. Depending on various regulations, you may not be able to sell alcohol at the event (with or without kids – it will depend on the licensing authority and the venue’s status). You may be able to get round this by selling tickets for drinks instead – vouchers which are exchanged for “free” beer. But then we also expect to be charging fifty cents a scoop for “free” ice-cream donated by a sponsor – although all money will go to the event’s nominated charity.

Sponsors need to be made comfortable. We are preparing a VIP section with better wine and grub, a sprinkling of rugby heroes, an ambassador or two and some celebs to rub shoulders with; but keeping a sponsor happy is about much more than taking their money and saying thanks – they should be treated as a partner.

Another Kiwi, Jimmy Bonner, is in charge of food and beverage for the Bangkok Sevens; he also manages a string of British-style eateries, notably the Royal Oak which is Bangkok’s leading rugby pub. So he is both sponsor and organiser. Apart from promoting his pubs and selling food and booze, he has to develop meals for the players at a price acceptable to the organisers. The nutritional value of the meals is stipulated by the International Rugby Board, no less, to assure players survive to the final. What’s in it for Jimmy? “It builds brand awareness, but it’s also good for business. In addition, I’ve always enjoyed rugby and I want to give something back to sports. This is a good, fun way to achieve a number of aims at once.”

Perhaps surprisingly, David is in favour of keeping the organising team lean. Many hands don’t make light work, he says; they get in the way and clog up communications. There must be a clear chain of command and well defined responsibilities. Part of ensuring a smooth event is to discourage potential disputes by making sure every official knows his or her job and there are no overlaps. The first time I helped out at our local tournament, I was appointed ‘field marshal’ but did not get a staff car, let alone a tank.

Above all, says David, remember that things will go wrong. Keep it flexible, smile in adversity and be prepared to make changes on the fly. He has experienced the result of a lightning strike on floodlights, precluding scheduled play after dark. He also cites the example of the ladies’ national rugby team of Laos last year in Bangkok: scheduled to play the opening game of the tournament, they were put safely on a coach from hotel to venue, but the driver got lost and his phone did not work. They were eventually found three hours later, 60km away. Eventually, they won their class. David and the team managed to see the funny side.

The Bangkok International Rugby Sevens takes place at the Patana Sports Centre on November 8-9. Anyone interested in sponsorship, or a team entry – or volunteering – should contact the author on +61 8 9779 9467 or go to www.bangkoksevens.com.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

July 19, 2018, 7:57 PM AEST